9 phrases you should never say to your child, according to psychology

Ava Sinclair by Ava Sinclair | March 24, 2024, 9:27 pm

As a parent, navigating conversations with your little one can be a tricky affair. It’s a tightrope walk between guiding them and letting them shape their own worldview.

There’s a stark difference between instructing your child and molding their thought process. The key lies in the language we use.

Psychology tells us certain phrases may have unintended negative impacts on a child’s psyche. That’s why it’s important to learn the phrases that we should absolutely avoid using with our kids.

So here we go. 

1) “You’re being too sensitive”

Childhood is a rollercoaster of emotions. As adults, we have the experience to navigate through complex feelings, but for children, it’s uncharted territory.

Telling a child they’re being ‘too sensitive’ can be damaging. It invalidates their emotions and can lead to suppression of feelings, which could have serious implications in their future emotional development.

Instead of dismissing their sensitivity, psychologists suggest acknowledging their feelings. It’s important to make them understand that it’s okay to feel the way they do while guiding them toward managing their emotions better.

Remember, our aim is not to mold our children into what we want them to be, but to help them grow into confident, emotionally intelligent individuals.

2) “Because I said so”

This phrase is a personal challenge for me. As a parent, it’s tempting to pull rank and end a debate with “Because I said so”. But, having learned about its potential downside, I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to avoid it.

The problem with “Because I said so” is that it shuts down any opportunity for discussion. It sends a message to our kids that their thoughts and questions are not valued.

I remember telling this to my daughter when she questioned why she should finish her vegetables. She looked disappointed and stopped asking questions for the rest of the meal. It made me realize how discouraging my words could be.

Now, instead of “Because I said so”, I try to provide a thoughtful explanation. In the case of vegetables, I explained the health benefits and how they keep her body strong and healthy.

It certainly takes more time and patience, but it’s worth it when I see her understanding and learning from our conversations.

3) “Stop crying”

Telling a child to ‘stop crying’ may seem like a quick way to restore peace and quiet, but it’s not always the best approach. This phrase may unintentionally teach children that their feelings aren’t important or that it’s not okay to express sadness or frustration.

Crying is a natural human response to a range of emotions, and it’s essential for children to understand that there’s nothing wrong with expressing these feelings.

It’s interesting to note that crying has physiological benefits too. It can soothe us and relieve stress by releasing oxytocin and endorphins. So by telling children to ‘stop crying,’ we might be denying them a natural stress relief mechanism.

Instead of trying to halt the tears, try offering comfort and understanding. Validate their feelings and help them navigate through their emotions.

4) “You’re so lazy”

Labeling a child as lazy can have a detrimental impact on their self-esteem. It’s easy to use this term when they’re not doing chores or homework, but it’s essential to remember that words can shape a child’s self-perception.

When we label kids as ‘lazy’, they might start to believe it themselves and live up to the label, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. It can potentially limit their willingness to strive and achieve.

Try motivating them instead. Explain the importance of tasks, break them down into manageable parts, or turn them into games. The aim is to encourage a positive attitude towards work and responsibilities, not to make them feel inadequate.

5) “Why can’t you be more like your sibling?”

Every child is unique with their own strengths and weaknesses. Comparing them to their siblings, or even to their peers, can foster feelings of resentment and inadequacy.

When we say, “Why can’t you be more like your sibling?”, we’re sending a message that they aren’t good enough as they are. This can damage their self-esteem and strain their sibling relationships.

Instead, celebrate each child’s individuality. Encourage their unique skills and talents. And when addressing behavior that needs to be changed, focus on the behavior itself, not on how another child might handle it better. Each child deserves to feel valued for who they are. 

6) “I wish you’d never been born”

This phrase, said in anger or frustration, can be particularly heartbreaking for a child to hear. It can create feelings of worthlessness and deep-rooted insecurity that may carry into adulthood.

Imagine being told that your very existence is regrettable. No child should ever have to bear the weight of such words.

However challenging parenting becomes, it’s crucial to remember that our words shape our children’s reality. If we instill love, respect, and positivity, we create a nurturing environment where they can thrive.

Let’s show our kids that they are loved and cherished, no matter what. Even during heated moments, let’s choose our words wisely as they have the power to stay with our children for a lifetime.

7) “You’re just like your father/mother”

This one hits close to home. When my child misbehaves or exhibits a trait that I don’t particularly appreciate, I’ve caught myself saying, “You’re just like your father”. This might seem harmless, but it’s not.

When we say this, we’re not only unfairly comparing our child to another person, but we’re also venting our frustrations about that person onto our child. It’s a double whammy that can confuse and hurt them.

I’ve learned the hard way that it’s essential to address the behavior directly and leave the comparisons out of it. It leads to a healthier conversation and a clearer understanding of what’s expected.

8) “You should know better”

While it’s natural to expect our children to learn from their mistakes, the phrase “You should know better” can come across as condescending and dismissive.

Children are learning constantly, and mistakes are a part of that process. By saying “you should know better,” we might inadvertently discourage them from trying new things or admitting their mistakes for fear of disappointing us.

Help them understand what went wrong and how they can make better choices in the future. This approach fosters a safer environment for learning and growing.

9) “I do everything for you”

This phrase communicates a sense of obligation and guilt. It can make a child feel like they are a burden, which can be damaging to their self-esteem and independence.

We must remember that as parents, it’s our responsibility to care for our children. They didn’t ask to be born or to be taken care of. It’s our role to do so.

Instead of expressing frustration, try communicating your needs and feelings calmly. Encourage them to take on age-appropriate responsibilities and tasks, fostering a sense of contribution and independence.

This approach not only lightens your load but also equips them with life skills they will carry into adulthood.

The aim is not to diminish their self-worth but to empower them. The words we use today shape their world tomorrow.

The heart of the matter

At the heart of this topic lies a simple, but profound truth: our words can shape our children’s reality.

Renowned child psychologist Haim Ginott once said, “Parents often talk about the younger generation as if they didn’t have anything to do with it.”

His words remind us of our role in shaping our children’s world – a role that cannot be underestimated. The phrases we say to our children, in moments of love or frustration, can leave lasting imprints.

Psychology underscores how important it is to communicate with kindness, respect, and understanding. Our words can either be a source of encouragement and empowerment or potentially foster feelings of doubt and inadequacy.

As we navigate the challenges and joys of parenting, let’s remember to choose our words wisely. Our children are listening, learning, and forming their self-image based on what they hear. Let’s ensure they hear words that uplift them, validate their feelings, and inspire their growth.

Because ultimately, the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. Let’s make that voice a positive one.